Once you put aside all of the social media and traditional media
stuff, there are really only two things I write about here. What to
say in an emergency, and what to say before an emergency. I’m trying
to explore what makes us successful pre-emergency communicators and
what makes us successful emergency communicators. A lot of times, I
put forward the idea that being successful before the emergency
makes it more likely that you will be successful during the
emergency. I’m still having difficulty teasing out if good
communicators just are good at what they do or if, by dint of their
pre-emergency communication, have laid the groundwork that facilitates
successful emergency communication.
For all of the “be first, be right, be open,” there is one thing,
though, that seems to underpin both situations: trustworthiness.
A trustworthy communicator is someone that people will listen to and
integrate into their lives before an emergency. And while those folks
tend to be trustworthy in general, they also create an environment
where people can believe them in an emergency and accept their word at
face value. Like I said, it could be one or the other reason, but is
probably some combination of both.
passed along an article out of the Wall Street
that I could tell he was smitten with. He rarely gushes, but he did
here, and I can see why. The article was exceptional. While I
encourage you to read the whole thing, here’s a quick rundown of the
five main points:
Show that your interests are the same.
Seems simple enough, but how many times have we heard CEOs publicly
wishing “for their lives back.” Your public needs to know that you’re
working toward a mutually beneficial goal, and for the reasons they
consider to be right. Have goals, “we’re working to…,” and all that.
It goes a long way.
Demonstrate concern for others.
This one is easy. In fact, every single media and public information
trainer out there (even the really bad ones) will tell you that one of
your first statements in an emergency should express empathy. They do
that because it helps build trustworthiness. It shows that you are
concerned about others. Do it.
Deliver on your promises.
If you’re not going to have that fire under control, don’t say it. If
you’re not going to have vaccine ready, don’t say that. For every
promise we make—and break—we lose a bit more credibility. And this one
isn’t just about shoring up before a flood, this is about showing up
to give a promised preparedness talk at the senior center, this is
about following up with a community advocate. If you can prove that
you can deliver brochures on a sunny day, I’m more likely to believe
you’ll deliver sandbags on a rainy day.
Be consistent and honest.
This is another one that media trainers will tell you. If you don’t
know yet, say, “we don’t know yet.” Constantly altering worst-case
scenarios make you look like you’re underplaying a disaster. The Coast
Guard, in a training I attended recently, said that in ship-based oil
spills, they always release the full capacity of the ship to the
media. This is how bad it could be, but we’re working extremely hard
to keep that from happening. And thus, the message is always
consistent and honest. One number, unchanging, grounded in absolute
Communicate frequently, clearly and openly.
Well, if you haven’t heard me say this a million times, you haven’t
been paying attention. The key to a successful communication effort is
communication. Say the same thing a dozen times to make sure new
folks can get caught up. Integrate new developments into your spiel
and repeat them, too. Be open, be honest, and be sure to be available.
It seems like a small thing, but when your agency is understaffed and
overwhelmed, sometimes you forget that just telling the media
something once doesn’t work. Your spokesperson should not be
operational. It’s okay to have operational folks and SMEs do some of
the talking, but when they go back to the response, someone still
needs to be there pushing your messages out.
Like Jay-Z said, “Trust, it’s a word you seldom hear from us.” But in
reality, it may very well be the most important thing.